The Benefits of Vitamin B9 in Pregnancy
If you’re like most expecting mamas, a positive pregnancy test comes with a to-do list so long it feels like you’re behind before you’ve even had your first ultrasound. There’s finding the right car seat, selecting the best stroller, choosing a crib and of course, stockpiling diapers—lots and lots of diapers. With so many tasks to tackle, it’s hard to know where to begin.
But outside of scheduling your doctor appointments, there’s one early pregnancy to-do that should take precedence over all else: Ensuring you’re taking a prenatal vitamin. And not just any prenatal vitamin—you’ll want to opt for one that contains vitamin B9.
More commonly referred to as folate, vitamin B9 is a water-soluble vitamin, which means it is not stored in the body and must be obtained through diet or supplements. It serves several key functions in the body, and plays a critical role in pregnancy and fetal development. So critical, in fact, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all women of child-bearing age, whether pregnant or not, get in the habit of consuming it daily—just in case conception occurs.1
We caught up with Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist, Dr. Amber Samuel, MD, OB/GYN & MFM to find out everything there is to know about this important nutrient.
What is the function of B9?
“Vitamin B9 is essential to several important processes in the body,” explains Samuel. “That includes the production of the body’s genetic material, DNA and RNA, red blood cell formation, healthy cell growth and function, and a healthy metabolism.”
B9 also helps break down the amino acid, homocysteine2, which helps to reduce your risk of dementia, heart disease and stroke.3
Do pregnant women need B9?
“Absolutely,” says Samuel. “Vitamin B9 is particularly important during periods of growth like pregnancy and fetal development.”
That’s because B9 is “a vital nutrient for your baby’s brain, heart and face development,” explains Samuels.
This growth happens within the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before many women know they are pregnant. That’s why it’s crucial for pregnant women to take a prenatal vitamin with B9 when they’re thinking about trying to conceive, too.
Throughout pregnancy, you need higher doses of B9 in early pregnancy rather than later. Perelel’s vitamins are targeted to you exactly where you are so you're getting a higher dose of B9 when you need it most.
How much vitamin B9 should pregnant women consume?
The recommended dose of folate is 700 micrograms (mcg) per day for pregnant women although some women may benefit from taking up to 4,000 mcg, especially if there is a history of neural tube defects. According to the CDC, there are no known side effects associated with such a high folate dose.4
Since this amount might be difficult to achieve through diet alone, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends pregnant women take a prenatal vitamin containing this important nutrient.5
But not all supplements are created equal. Folic acid, the synthetic format of folate, is a common household prenatal ingredient though it’s not the most absorbable format. According to Samuel, “While your body can easily convert and use folate, folic acid takes multiple organ systems and cannot be digested by certain people, such as individuals with MTHFR mutations.”
This is why, at Perelel, we use methylated folate in our Core Prenatal vitamin as well as our preconception and first trimester vitamin packs. Unlike folic acid, this form of folate is easily converted by the body for optimal absorption.
Learn more about the differences between folate and folic acid in this helpful article.
What are the symptoms of B9 deficiency?
According to Dr. Samuel, in the average adult, a B9 deficiency will manifest as fatigue, mouth sores and cardiac symptoms. For pregnant women, she says, the consequences of inadequate intake can be much greater.
“When pregnant women don’t consume sufficient quantities of folate, they put their babies at risk of fetal anomalies and birth defects of the brain and spine called neural tube defects,” she explains.
This is why organizations like the CDC recommend that all women who could become pregnant get at least 400 mcg of folic acid every day—the neural tube is formed so early in pregnancy that by the time a woman realizes she is pregnant, it may be too late to prevent defects.
Where can you find vitamin B9?
Eating a balanced diet is a great first step in upping your vitamin B9 intake since it is naturally present in a number of foods, including dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, romaine lettuce, asparagus, Brussels sprouts and broccoli, as well as beans, peanuts, sunflower seeds, whole grains, seafood and eggs.
Many foods are also fortified with folic acid, because it's much more heat sensitive than that natural format, folate, and less expensive. In 1998, the FDA began requiring that folic acid be added to enriched grain products like cereals, breads, rice and pastas.6 Vitamin B9 is also available in supplements. But Dr. Samuel cautions against relying solely on fortified foods or vitamin supplements containing folic acid. “Folic acid is the manufactured derivative but must be converted to a usable form of folate which not all people can physiologically do,” she explains.
The Perelel Core Prenatal Vitamins, preconception and first trimester vitamin packs all contain a form of folate that is easily converted by the body for absorption.
Why is B9 included in prenatal vitamins if it can be found in food?
That's because the nutrient requirements for folate are highest during early pregnancy, often before many women even know that they are pregnant. And those folate is a critical nutrient for your baby's early development.
"Many women will go through this essential time while all the organs are formed without even knowing yet that they are pregnant," explains Dr. Samuel. "So supplementation throughout a woman's reproductive years is always best."
Plus, factors such as lifestyle, diet or genetic makeup mean that it may be hard for some women to meet the high nutritional requirements in early pregnancy, especially those with the MTHR variant.
Eating a balanced diet and regularly taking a prenatal vitamin that contains the active form of vitamin B9 is the best way to ensure you don’t fall short.
For more helpful first trimester tips, check out this comprehensive guide plus shop OB/GYN-founded vitamins to nourish you from the inside out.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Perelel.1 (2021, September 1). Folic Acid Helps Prevent Some Birth Defects | CDC. www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/features/folic-acid-helps-prevent-some-birth-defects.html
2 (2021, May 7). Homocysteine: Levels, Tests, High Homocysteine Levels.my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/21527-homocysteine
3 Folate (Folic Acid) – Vitamin B9 | The Nutrition Source. www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/folic-acid/
4 Folic Acid: Frequently Asked Questions & Answers - CDC. www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/orders/pdfs/Folic%20Acid_QandA508.pdf
5 Nutrition During Pregnancy | ACOG. www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/nutrition-during-pregnancy
6 Folic acid fortification continues to prevent neural tube defect | CDC. www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/features/folicacid-prevents-ntds.html